February 5, 2019 Agnus Dei: Behold the Lamb of God! Isaiah 40:1-5, John 1:19-34

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Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:1-5 (ESV).

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And this is the testimony of John, (meaning John the Baptist) when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John 1:19-34 (ESV)

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What beautiful solace Isaiah gives us- Comfort, comfort my people! Your iniquity (sin) is pardoned!

Our pardon, our comfort, our peace, came at an unimaginable cost- the suffering and death of Almighty God Himself. The One upon whom the Spirit descended as like a dove, the One with whom God was well pleased, the God-Man, had to be given to die.

The concept of penal substitution – the theological premise that Jesus was given as a sacrifice to save us from our sins- seems foreign and archaic to modern ears.  Yet the sacrificial system of the Old Testament pointed to Jesus.  The blood on the door frames on the night of Passover lead to lives being spared because they are covered by the blood of a lamb.  (Exodus 12:1-13)

John the Baptist was the man appointed by God and foretold by the prophet Isaiah to point the way to Jesus- the Agnus Dei- the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  John didn’t come into the world to build himself up or to tell everyone how great he was. His entire life was spent pointing others to Jesus.

Nothing we can do can make us right before a holy God- there is no other path to salvation and life than by faith in Christ, by trusting that we are covered by the blood of His sacrifice.

John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Repentance is simply turning away from the things that we know are contrary to God’s will for us.  When we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our old nature is drowned in the water.  In baptism we are buried with Christ, and we are made alive in Christ.  This is a daily experience for the Christian, turning from our sins, drowning that old man in the ongoing promise of our baptism, and clinging to our new life in Christ.

The blood of the Lamb covers us and makes us clean. (Revelation 7:9-17)  Jesus had to die and rise again so that we can be alive in Him.

The very son of God died and rose again. For you. For us.

Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

October 30, 2018 The Gospel of the Reformation- Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 11:8-12, Galatians 3:7-9

God provides the lamb

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. Hebrews 11:8-12 (ESV)

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:7-9 (ESV)

The message of the Reformation is the rediscovery of the Gospel. The Good News of God’s Word was finally printed in native languages so that people could read and discover what Scripture really says. The lies and deceptions that were going on in the name of God, such as the sales of relics and indulgences and other profiteering and vice throughout the church were exposed. Even with the reforms of the 16th century and beyond, the church is still a collection of sinners, and reformation is an ongoing process.

In the pages of Scripture- foretold by the prophets and made real in the person of Jesus, God’s people are no longer bound by the curse of the garden, or enslaved by the futility of law-keeping as a way to assuage the wrath of God and “earn” salvation. We learn that by faith in Jesus the Law that was handed down to Moses is fulfilled. In Christ we are brought back into the unilateral covenant God made with Abraham. Abraham was not a sinless man by any stretch but he was saved and justified by the gift of faith in God.

God gave Abraham a promise, that through Isaac, the child of promise, that he would have countless descendants. It was not a gift with a condition attached.  There was no quid pro quo.  God’s promise to Abraham was unilateral, unconditional, from the top down.  God provided Abraham’s faith, even the faith Abraham needed to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. (See Genesis 22:1-18) God also provided the lamb for the sacrifice, sparing Isaac.

God provides the Lamb for us as well. Not because we earn or deserve it, but completely by grace.

Because Jesus became the sacrifice that covers our sins, we are set free of the impossible task of earning God’s love or of buying brownie points to heaven. By faith in Jesus we become the offspring promised to Abraham.

Grace alone, Faith alone, Christ alone. It’s that easy and that complicated.  We are named and claimed in our baptism, covered and made clean in the Blood of Christ.

This is the simple Gospel of the Reformation: We who are born dead in trespasses and sins, by faith, by the grace of Christ alone have been and are being made right with God. Saved. Redeemed. Loved. Forever. Descendents of Abraham and children of God, marked with the Cross of Christ forever in our Baptism.  Nothing earned, nothing deserved.  All because of Jesus!

 

February 28, 2018 – God Provides the Lamb- Genesis 22:1-19

sacrifice Isaac

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.  He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba. Genesis 22:1-19 (NIV)

Child sacrifice is rightly considered an abomination to God’s people. When child sacrifice is mentioned later in Scripture, specifically in offering one’s children to the false god Molech, it is named as a sin punishable by stoning (Leviticus 20:2-5).  God does not take sacrificing children to false gods lightly.  Jesus said to His disciples, “Let the children come to Me and do not stop them.” (Luke 18:16)  God loves children and expects us to love and protect them as well.

So why does God give Abraham this impossible decision? From the perspective of a parent of an only son (technically Abraham did have another son, but Isaac was the child of God’s promise) this is an unthinkable, unimaginable decision to make.  A parent’s natural reaction, especially the reaction of a parent who had suffered through years of infertility, would be something along the lines of, “God, you can’t possibly be serious!”

How would we react to such a command from God? Even should we have multiple children to spare? First of all we would want to be sure that it’s God talking and not some other voice. Today, because of Jesus becoming the one perfect sacrifice for all time, we can be confident that God would not want us to take any of our children and set them up on a barbeque, which is a comforting thought. Today, if one thinks that God wants them to sacrifice his or her child, this should be taken as a cry for mental help.

God will provide the lamb. This is what Abraham tells Isaac to comfort him, even though at the time, Abraham has no way of knowing this.  We learn that Abraham was not permitted to follow through with sacrificing Isaac.  God did indeed provide the lamb- first a foreshadowing by the appearance of the ram in the Genesis account, and then He provided the true Lamb of God, Jesus.

Are we willing to follow God no matter how illogical or impractical or impossible it sounds to us? What is God asking of us?

Surrender is not easy.  It should be easy for us to surrender our sins, our faults, our doubts, but as soon as we think we have left them at the foot of the Cross, we tend to pick them back up again.  When the apostle Peter tells us, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”- 1 Peter 5:7 (NRSV)- that’s passive surrender, but we are still called to do it.  We endure much more anguish and distress than we should when we do not surrender our anxiety and our worry to Jesus.

Sometimes surrender is proactive, as we see in the Genesis text. God wants us to reach out and do things that are hard. Often we are called to surrender our time and our resources with no tangible assurance that our sacrifice will even be noticed or appreciated.

Surrender is about obedience, in putting the pursuit of God’s will above our own will. It is never easy to surrender, but the Holy Spirit will help us seek God’s will and be obedient to Him.

Like Abraham we are called to trust God without knowing how He will provide. It’s not easy sometimes, especially when we don’t see a way out or a way through an illness or a bad situation.  It’s hard when we are at the end of ourselves. God has provided the Lamb- but it is hard for us to realize that when everything around us screams that there is no hope.

Even when everything we see looks hopeless, God has promises for us that are going to come about for us even though we can’t imagine them. We can’t see how they play out right now. Abraham didn’t live on this earth long enough to see all of his descendants. We may never know how we will impact someone else’s life here and now.  Maybe something we said or something we did for someone will make a difference in their lives and other lives years after we have forgotten about it, or even years after our time on this earth is over.

Today might be a good day to meditate on the provision of God and surrender to His will, knowing that He has good plans and promises for us.  God provides the Lamb.  No matter how hopeless our situations may seem.